Only a small dose of common sense to see that children tend to flourish when men and women rear them together through permanent family units sustained by marriage. Granted, there are many examples of single, divorced, and widowed mothers, and fathers and other people, who struggle successfully to bring up children in other familial settings. They may be remarkably successful, and Christian churches should do all that they can to help them succeed.
It’s no insult to them, however, to point out the misguided nature of arguments that praise single motherhood as the new “normal,” as does a recent op-ed entitled “In Defense of Single Motherhood” in the New York Times. Not surprisingly, this piece provides no convincing answer to the charge that in the world as we know it, households headed by a single mother are more likely to be financially strapped and associated with challenges that hinder the development of healthy children. Perhaps extremely wealthy unmarried persons have the resources to hire nannies, chefs, and chauffeurs to take up the slack, but most of us barely get by with both spouses working and sharing childcare and other domestic responsibilities.
Single motherhood is strongly associated with poverty in our society. To hold up an unrealistic vision of the joys of raising a child alone is to present an illusory vision of parenthood at least as difficult to obtain as fortune and fame through professional sports or becoming a rock star.
Physicians, social workers, and others in helping professions—and especially police officers—know the sadly common story of the abuse of the mother’s children by her boyfriend. To praise and encourage practices that result in the absence of fathers and the presence of other males in the household is simply irresponsible and promotes the endangerment of children. The lack of stability and safety in a child’s life that single motherhood often brings present dangerous circumstances that no one should seek.
Is it really too much to ask that our culture praise marriage as the ideal setting for child-rearing? How strange that we are even having this conversation. Though it is politically incorrect to say, men and women really are different. It is good for kids to be brought up by a representative of each sex and to have role models of how men and women make a life together.
The lesson given to boys and girls by fathers who are absent from the daily responsibilities of child-rearing is not positive. To leave women alone to rear children is simply sexist and encourages men to be irresponsible and to set a horrible example for future generations. This is a circumstance for mourning, not for praise.
A society that does not recognize that the life-long commitment of man and woman to one another and to their children in marriage should be the norm and ideal for family life will be the poorer for its confusion. The op-ed piece in question certainly has little respect for men, and actually states that “young men need jobs so they can pay child support and contributed more meaningfully to the households they are living in.” What a pathetically low perspective on the role of husbands and fathers.
When a society asks so little of men, we should not be surprised when they behave irresponsibly, and simply do their best to produce more single mothers or to contribute to circumstances that lead to abortion. As a married man and a father who was brought up by deeply committed parents in a very stable home, it has never occurred to me to think of my financial contributions to our family as “providing child support.” That is a minimalistic standard set by the state for dead-beat dads, for men who refuse to fulfill their most fundamental responsibilities in life. Ways of talking about family that encourage such a perspective on fatherhood are profoundly misguided, insulting to men, and ultimately bad for women and children.
For Orthodox Christians, there is no question that single parenthood is an exceptional circumstance that no one should seek, except, perhaps, in cases where unmarried people heroically adopt children. That’s not the circumstance described by this editorial, in which the author paints a rosy picture of her situation of having two children by two different men, neither of whom live with her or their children, and neither of whom is a husband. There’s no question that such scenarios fall short of the marital nature of the intimate union of man and woman as blessed in the Church.
The point of Orthodox teaching in these matters is not self-righteous moralizing, but humbly accepting the truth about what is best for men, women, and children. God creates us in his image and likeness as male and female. Out of our difference of love for one another, we bring new persons into the world. The more fully these different types of human beings bond together in love, the better for all concerned, and the more we image the Holy Trinity. Sex and child-rearing are marital endeavors for both men and women.
So let’s do all we can to help single parents succeed, while at the same time holding up faithful marriage as the ideal setting for rearing children.